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More Effective Threat Visibility Using Identity and Device-Type Context

Following my previous blog post about identity and device aware IT platforms making IT operations easier and more effective, I wanted to delve a little deeper into a specific element of the IT infrastructure: Security Event & Information Management (SIEM) and Threat Defense (TD) systems.

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Compromised Accounts, Stepping Stones

July 17, 2012 at 11:49 am PST

The list of account compromises over the past week is almost too long to list, and the numbers of verified or estimated compromised accounts has reached ridiculous numbers.  With the media spotlight on these current companies’ compromises, we’ll likely get more details on the security weaknesses, outright failures, and more from the narcissistic vulnerability pimps taking credit for exposing those security problems.

Aside from the obvious of changing passwords, what can you and your organization do?

I won’t prognosticate on the list of best practices that may have been violated in these compromises, but they will be reported following the long, detailed, and expensive investigations in coming weeks and months, because most of them will be well-known but for one reason or another not practiced.  The media reporting and the company’s public statements will cover those, and they will likely be worth a review for any significant points.  We can let them tell the story, again.

Instead let’s focus on some things that people may not know or understand that can actually improve your security around these incidents.  We highlighted a couple of these practices in the 2011 Annual Security Report, and more recently in the Emerging Threats Briefing at Cisco Live 2012.

First, let’s help our customers, users, and organizations.  Given the opportunity, many people will take the simplest and easiest way.  In the case of passwords, that means they will use their birthday, username, “password”, “123456”, and so on.  We’ll see these lists of bad passwords in coming weeks too.  It’s human nature, and too much work to try and remember all those passwords, right? Which leads to the second point of people that use the same password on multiple accounts (more on this shortly).  As security practitioners, professionals,…we too often are setting up our users and organizations to fail.  We have to do better, and here’s how.  Every security control must have technical controls that enforce and monitor that security control, or we have no idea if it is effective.  In the case of passwords, that means creating policies, security controls, and technical controls that require a user to create a strong password and change it regularly.  If we let a user create a password of “123456”, they have done as should be expected, and we have failed.  Even with the best account credentials, the accounts have to be monitored for suspicious activity with technical controls to alert security teams and users when, for example, a password is changed.  For a good reference list see: FY 2011 Chief Information Officer Federal Information Security Management Act Reporting Metrics.  Note the account activity items on the list: Locked out accounts, failed logins, dormant accounts, password aging…

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